Did your mother know?
It’s usually the first question anyone asks when they learn that I was sexually abused as a child by my ‘stepmonster.’
“You tell me,” I usually reply.
How can I know for sure whether my Mother did or did not know what was going on right in front of her?
Well, the one way to make absolutely certain that she was aware was to eventually tell her.
There had been times, too numerous to count, where I had spent the night bracing myself for the morning when I was going to be brave and tell her everything. Spill the beans. I had been plucking up the courage nightly from the very beginning but by each morning my resolve was broken and I kept everything to myself, held tightly in my chest.
How could I tell her?
She loved him. It would break her heart and she would blame me.
Also, if I told her and she didn’t believe me, what hold would I then have over him so that he wouldn’t do anything worse to me?
Also, I didn’t have the words.
To this day I don’t have the words. I don’t know how to talk about the things he did to me. Yes, of course I can say he touched me, he molested me, he abused me but not in any great detail. I don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Just thinking about it makes me feel sick to my stomach and anxious to the ends of my hair.
One of the things he used to do after he ‘touched’ me repulses me beyond measure and exacerbates all my feelings of guilt and repugnance of myself. I’ve never said it out loud before.
He used to wash his hands.
Well, on this day, on this particular day I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
I was 14. We had just commenced our annual holiday. Or rather, my annual torture. Six weeks solid of being trapped on a Greek island with them both. This time it was too much.
We were in a tiny studio apartment on the island of Andros. Andros? Spetses? Hydra? Thassos? Wherever we ended up it made no difference to me. It was always hell. This hell was small and white and ‘they’ shared a bed to the right and I had one to the left as you entered the property. If we reached out we could easily touch each other. You know what I am saying.
We could only have been there a matter of hours; 24 or 48 at the most. He had gone out for a walk, or whatever it is that he did and I knew it would be now or never.
I started shaking from head to toe and was practising what and how to say what I needed to, inside my head. I was mumbling and trembling and constantly checking that he wasn’t anywhere nearby.
Mum, as usual was cleaning. She was obsessive about it. She was in the bathroom and so I went in and took a deep breath.
“Mum, please can I talk to you for a moment?”
“I have something I need to tell you.”
“Mum. I think ‘he’ needs to see someone. He keeps touching me. He’s been doing it since I was five.”
A beat later still with her back to me and her hand scrubbing the bath, she spat out the following words, “Are you prepared to stand up in court and say that?”
Of all the scenarios I had conjured up in my head of how this moment might go, this one oddly enough, just hadn’t occurred to me. I hadn’t considered that she wouldn’t at least look at me with kind eyes and hold me, comfort me the way all the mothers in the books I read, did.
Instead, she remained aloof and distant and wanted to know if I was prepared to stand up in court and tell them what my own mother wasn’t even prepared to hear. Hmm. Let me just think about that for a moment.
I wasn’t prepared to stand up anywhere and say anything. It had just taken me nine years of building up the courage to find the words to tell her, the one person in the world who was obliged to believe me. My own Mother. It would be quite some time, if ever, I was to tell the police or anyone else.
Then he returned.
I was sat on my bed, to the left, and he swaggered in and sprawled himself across his bed to the right, mouthing disgusting things to me and making obscene gestures that he knew my mother couldn’t see as she was still in the bathroom.
If I had ever been terrified before, the level to which I was now filled with dread was immense. She would tell him what I had said and then he would know that she wasn’t going to do anything at all about it. He literally had free reign to do whatever the hell he liked with me, not that he wasn’t already, and I was now weaker than ever before but with both of us knowing that I hadn’t got a hope in hell.
I begged my Mother to let me go home early. I would be safe I told her. I would just go home and stay there for the next 5 weeks and 5 days until it was time to go back to school.
Ironically, I would probably be far safer than staying there with the two of them.
Regardless of my arguments, tantrums, begging and so on, Mum would not let me go. What kind of glutton for punishment would keep the daughter who has just told her that her husband has been abusing her for nine years, in the same few square feet as the perpetrator? My Mother, that’s who.